Mookie Pearl works for the criminal underworld of New York City, dealing in the newest drug craze that’s come to the streets of the Big Apple: the Blue stuff, Cerulean, Peacock Powder. It comes straight from the bowels of Hell itself. This is a New York that lives alongside an opening to the real underworld. And Mookie works for both. Take a hit of the old peacock powder and you’ll see what you never saw before – everything that was once hidden in the cracks; the shadows; behind the eyes of people in the streets. It opens up a whole new side to the world around you – it opens up The Blue Blazes.
Chuck Wendig’s latest is an urban fantasy thriller that uses a setting that’s completely unique, and offers up a cast of characters who feel like a breath of fresh air to the genre. It’s almost like Wendig has taken the cast of Goodfellas and dragged them, kicking and screaming into a fantasy reality of New York, opened up the playground and let them run loose. The story seems at its roots to be typical gangland mafia fare, but with the real underworld alongside the criminal one, and the different “pigments” of hell serving as our drug-runners delight. The plot concerns Mookie Pearl’s quest to save the dying mafia leader by hunting out the fabled fifth pigment, Death’s Head: the purple pigment; the lifegiver. Along the way, Mookie encounters a range of different mythical beasts and bizarre creatures, as well as seeing whatever The Blue Blazes show him. But things get complicated (as ever!) when Mookie’s daughter, Nora, comes into the fray.
Wendig has really created a fascinating and original main character in Mookie Pearl. He’s physically enormous – a real, old fashioned street thug. But underneath is a quieter, more contemplative individual with some deep regrets about his past and a driving passion for charcuterie. (Yes – charcuterie.) The side characters are all very well realised and contribute to the frantic plot in ways which are continually surprising. But Mookie is the star of this novel, and it’s all the better for it. Wendig writes in a frenzied third person present tense which moves rapidly through the plot, and for most of the book Mookie acts as our POV character, with the occasional change to some of the other major players in the story. It’s an excellent style that had me gripped from page one and always dying to read just one more chapter.
Wendig’s writing style is quite specific to him – it’s a take-no-shit, balls-to-the-wall style that fits in with the setting and characters of The Blue Blazes well. Wendig doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to cursing and gore – and indeed, much of the humour derives straight from his swear-addled prose and blood-splashed pages. The dialogue is crisp and flows quickly, with a dark humour which Wendig relishes throughout. It’s a style which Wendig is well-known for and as my first Chuck Wendig novel, I found it to be a real breath of fresh air in a subgenre which sometimes feels a little stuffy and manufactured. But it won’t be for everyone – so beware.
The Blue Blazes was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in fiction this year and it’s got me chomping at the bit for more from Mookie Pearl – hell, just more from Chuck Wendig. He shows us an urban fantasy world which we’ve not really seen before, and manages to breathe some much-needed life into some tired gangster movie style clichés, with a distinctive vision of both the real and criminal underworlds. The Blue Blazes shows us Hell in Technicolor, and each pigment jumps straight off the page in High Definition Wendig-Vision. It’s brilliant stuff, and I just hope there’s more to come from Mookie Pearl and the five pigments of the Underworld.
Thanks to Angry Robot for supplying me with an ARC of The Blue Blazes.